forest

Don't Miss the Trees for the Forest: An Exercise in Mindfulness

Every time I hear this saying (in its proper order) I always find myself digging my heels in and thinking about the pleasure I find in small moments. As the original saying encourages, I feel like there is a lot of focus given to the ‘bigger picture’ in our everyday lives; on tomorrow or the next week, with little importance placed on the here and now (unless, of course, you have a deadline).

With these everyday pressures, I find that the small moments in life, like watching a bird nest or appreciating the way the light shines through a tree’s leaves, are overlooked or lost. However, I've found that when I pay particular attention to some of the smaller details around me, they can have an almost magical effect on my day.

Interactions between birds can be easily missed when you don't pay attention, such as that between this adult and juvenile dusky wood swallow.  Image: Sarah Bond

Interactions between birds can be easily missed when you don't pay attention, such as that between this adult and juvenile dusky wood swallow. Image: Sarah Bond

There is one instance recently where this magic clearly comes to mind. I was sat inside eating my lunch and just happened to glance out the window. By some chance, I was sitting in such a way that I had a perfect view of an enormous tree in the distance that was head and shoulders above the other surrounding trees. I marvelled at its size and wondered what animals might call that tree home. I smiled to myself and pondered whether small fledgling birds would set such a tree as a challenge to try and reach the crown.

Such thoughts will usually lead me down the wonderful path to daydreaming – an unproductive task when viewed from the work angle, but a very critical respite for the brain and a wonderful way to cherish what is seen around us.

Enjoying the small moments - the unexpected ones and those elements that are missed by the unobservant - can also help to create a special bond with an area. Whether this is watching nestlings grow up outside your office window, or sitting on the grass and enjoying the shade under a tree, there are so many ways to appreciate the little things in the outdoors.

Making up stories, as I happened to do briefly on the day in question, is also something that should not be reserved for childhood nostalgia but relished when viewing nature. The incorporation of light imagination into our viewing of nature can help us to become inquisitive about what is happening around us and seek out answers to the questions that may randomly strike when creating a story.

Having spent my life learning about the natural world, I feel that there are many small details that I marvel at and discover when thinking of them as a story. They also create strong memories of the local area and pull out tiny details that might otherwise be missed, such as the sound of the wind blowing through the trees or the smell of an ants’ nest next to a path.

Insect species, such as grasshoppers, are one of the most difficult aspects of nature to take notice of, usually due to their size.  Image: Sarah Bond

Insect species, such as grasshoppers, are one of the most difficult aspects of nature to take notice of, usually due to their size. Image: Sarah Bond

I often wonder, though, what is it that other people see and experience? Unfortunately for those stuck in the mentality of the forest before the trees, I know this answer is ‘not much’. But having been trapped in this mentality myself, I know there is hope to start looking for the things deemed insignificant, or noting the unexpected in the world around us.

I have started to make it a permanent part of my day to take a few moments and marvel at something surprising in my immediate surroundings. On this particular lunchtime, it just happened quite spontaneously and I feel that when I return to that same seat again, my eyes will alight, if only briefly, on the distant tree. For now, I will look forward to the tiny details that I hope to see tomorrow. What will be your surprise? Don’t forget to sometimes look past the forest and see the trees.


Sarah Bond

Sarah is a botanist who works at a local indigenous plant nursery in Melbourne. She is interested in engaging the public with the conservation of local flora and fauna.

You can find her on Twitter at @SarahBBond


Banner image courtesy of Sarah Bond.

A Forest of Sculpture

Twenty years ago, nine artists from Australia and the Asia-Pacific region descended on Toolangi Forest. There, they each created a sculpture, hewing shapes and meaning out of the materials the forest had to offer. Today, only a few of these pieces remain intact; most are in differing stages of decay, or have been entirely reclaimed by the forest. Renewed interpretive boards share photos of the works in their youth and information about the pieces and the artists. The pieces were never intended to last forever, but to become part of the organic cycle of life in the forest.

Two decades later, Sharon Plummer took it upon herself to revive the sculpture trail. This time, fifteen Victorian artists would be commissioned to create works in situ, on sites located in amongst the remnants of the last event. For two weeks the artists worked in the forest, sourcing their materials, adjusting their plans and creating their pieces. They stayed in a bed and breakfast nearby, and participated in a program of events that drew in crowds from around Victoria during the construction of their sculptures.

Scott and Tobias at work on  Will .  Image:   Alex Mullarky

Scott and Tobias at work on Will. Image: Alex Mullarky

Now the forest is quiet again, although on the day I visited the trail, sculptor Scott Selkirk was making some final adjustments to his piece. Children had been using the protruding bolts on his twisted tree form as a climbing frame, so it was determined safer to remove the excess length of the bolts. Scott held a rainbow umbrella to keep off the rain, while his assistant, his brother Tobias, sent sparks flying as the bolts broke away.

Yet the sculpture trail is full of strange and surprising sights like these. Our path takes us first through a field of stark white branches set amongst the brush of the understorey. These are neurons, Sharon tells me. They were created by Marynes Avila, whose work is heavily informed by science. Marynes explains that during her site analysis she was taken by the idea of the connections between the roots of the trees. Her work is an expression of ‘the brain of the forest’. Walking amongst the branch-neurons with rain pounding into the dark canopy above, the forest does feel alive.

Symbiosis  by Marynes Avila.  Image:   Karen Goldfinch

Symbiosis by Marynes Avila. Image: Karen Goldfinch

There is movement in the branches, the gentle swaying of fabric. These are Isadora Vaughan’s Thick Airs, rectangles of material hanging between trees, dyed in vivid hues created from ingredients sourced around the site: clay, lichen, sap and rhododendrons. The cloths hang heavy with the rain, but Sharon tells me that Isadora wants the colours to change and fade with the forest’s seasons.

Thick Airs  by Isadora Vaughan.  Image: Alex Mullarky

Thick Airs by Isadora Vaughan. Image: Alex Mullarky

We come upon a round shape fashioned from twigs and branches. Brigit Heller’s piece is inspired by one of the last remaining sculptures from 1996: a hefty circle of darkened tree roots, which has become the trail’s unofficial emblem. As Brigit collected the branches that her piece would be composed of, she became fascinated by the inside of these branches that her sculpture opens out for the viewer. ‘You can read the history of a tree,’ Brigit explains. She loves the symbolism of the circle and all that it represents: ‘the continuum of life; it’s just so full of meaning’. When she heard that someone had been doing yoga beside her sculpture, she was thrilled: ‘It totally captures my intention for some sort of stillness’.

Syzygy  by Brigit Heller.  Image: Brigit Heller

Syzygy by Brigit Heller. Image: Brigit Heller

Gay Chatfield’s work invites interaction in a different way. Her woven forms are inspired by the dens that children inevitably build in the forest. Usually working with willow, Gay was challenged by the limitations of the native forest environment, but she soon found her material in the unlikely form of an invasive tree – sycamore maple, which was in the process of being removed from the forest, and which Gay was able to give a new purpose to in her sculpture. The tree proved to have the flexibility and strength needed for the weaving. Gay’s work is entitled A Place to Dream, and invokes an irresistible urge to crawl inside, stand up inside the tall structures and peer out at the forest canopy through the weave. A sturdy pathway of fleshy bark segments leads the walker between the dens and the trail.

A Place to Dream  by Gay Chatfield.  Image: Karen Goldfinch

A Place to Dream by Gay Chatfield. Image: Karen Goldfinch

Further along, and Ali Griffin’s wooden sculpture rises out of the forest floor. From above, Precious is an undulating shape composed of burnt logs, but crouch down to the level of the leaf litter and you’ll find that the underside is coated with gold. Using real gold leaf, Ali wanted to draw the viewer’s attention to the contradiction between the worthless and the priceless: what one person may view as worthless (burnt timber) is, to others – and to the forest – priceless; organic matter, a home for insects and wildlife, nourishing even in death. Ali explains that she wanted the blackened branches to be experienced in multiple ways; that the smell of the burnt logs could conjure memories from bushfire to a winter fireplace.

Precious  by Ali Griffin.  Image: Karen Goldfinch

Precious by Ali Griffin. Image: Karen Goldfinch

Around each bend in the path is a sculpture both provoking and organic, inspiring thoughts and evoking memories while blending seamlessly into the forest. Scott Selkirk’s work is a feat of engineering, both alive and industrial in its feel. A dead tree curls in on itself, segmented and bolted in place, folding perilously back. Scott said of his piece: ‘The forest has given us so much… It seems that it bends to our will. So I ask, how long will it take before the forest is no longer able to provide all that we ask for?’ On a personal level, Scott is influenced by the issues he has been having with his health. His sculpture asks a question about the state of his own back, as well as the future of the forest: ‘How far can it bend before it breaks?’

Will  by Scott Selkirk.  Image: Karen Goldfinch

Will by Scott Selkirk. Image: Karen Goldfinch

At the end of the trail is an unfinished piece hanging between two trees. It is a community weaving, begun during the events in November, but which Sharon hopes is just at the beginning of its life. She wants all visitors to the trail to feel that they can pick up materials and contribute to the tapestry. This is a piece that can grow, despite its temporary nature. All the artists love what Marynes refers to as ‘the non-precious’; the idea that the sculptures can be touched and interacted with, that they have a lifespan by definition, that they will eventually be reclaimed by the forest, where they originated.

It’s what the trail is all about, what Sharon refers to as ‘bridging the gap’; inviting people from all walks of life to enter into another world that we are irrevocably part of. You don’t need to be a scientist; you don’t need to be an artist. The sculpture trail blends worlds: ecology, sculpture, walking, observing, participating. It satisfies what Marynes describes as ‘a need to reconnect with nature. That interconnection between everything that exists. It’s a reconnection with ourselves.’

One of ten  Totems of the Forest  created by schools and youth groups under the guidance of Avis Gardner.  Image: Alex Mullarky

One of ten Totems of the Forest created by schools and youth groups under the guidance of Avis Gardner. Image: Alex Mullarky

The Toolangi Sculpture Trail is open seven days a week free of charge. It is part of the Toolangi Bushland Reserve that also includes the Yea River Walk.

Visit toolangisculpture.com for more information. 


Alex Mullarky

Alex Mullarky is a writer and environmentalist from the UK who has called Melbourne home since 2014. She is a graduate of English Literature and is particularly interested in the connection between language and landscape.


You can find her on Twitter at @saesteorra

An Alpine Adventure: Discovering our Mountain Heritage.

Lake Mountain, Victoria. 

Lake Mountain, Victoria. 

For most, the Australian alpine is celebrated for its novelty of snow. When winter rolls around, people from Melbourne and surrounds temporarily vacate suburban life for a few days of enjoying what is, on this continent, a true rarity. Yet there is much more to our unique alpine and subalpine ecosystems than the glistening white fields of a snowboarder’s dream.  

For most of the year, the tops of Victorian mountains are bare of snow and ice. The alpine environment itself is variable and harsh. Summer, Spring, and Autumn all prove difficult for the flora and fauna found atop our iconic mountains. When winter comes and snow finally settles over the vegetation and rock, it is often a great relief for the life forms that call this alpine environment home.

Snow provides warmth. It may seem counterintuitive, but as some experienced snow-goers may understand, snow is an excellent insulator. Layers of this glaringly white stuff provide protection from the cold climate, offering safe harbour to the many small animals that thrive in the Australian alpine. They tunnel through it, burrow beneath it, and live out the coldest months in the ironically warm product of freezing temperatures.

When the snow melts and Summer comes again, new problems are presented to alpine critters - the Australian bush is prone, and often adapted, to fire. At the current rate, particularly large, intense fires blaze across our bushland every decade or so. Such events can be devastating, the tragic consequences being too well known to Australian residents. However, these natural disasters also significantly affect our native wildlife.

Life in the alpine is never easy - snow, fire, or neither. The winds are relentless, the nights bite hard with frost, and there is little or no shelter. It is no wonder then that many of the plants and animals adapted to such a brutal environment are truly unique. Such special wildlife deserves special interest and special care. As climate change threatens to reduce our already rare alpine habitats, we must make it a priority to ensure our mountain-dwelling species are capable of enduring, lest we lose something very special: our alpine heritage.

What are these unique plants and animals?

How do they survive such an unforgiving landscape?

And just why do they matter?

In this article, I hope to answer some aspects of these questions, and shed a little light on our glorious and fragile alpine ecosystems.

 

Stepping out of my car at the Ski Resort, I am instantly aware of just how much my Commodore is capable of sheltering me from the elements - what a luxury. The thin air is whipped around my body by the wind. It moves me with such force it’s as if each little pocket of oxygen were trying to rush past me to board a train at Flinders Street during rush hour. Not unlike crushing an empty can of coke, I’m grasped hard by the cold and with a shudder, retract into myself.

“Welcome to Lake Mountain,” I say, my words stolen by the wind, to Rachel and Emma who are in hysterics from the harshness of the atmosphere they’ve stepped into. Soon, as if on cue, my body cranks up the heat and my thermals and thick ski jacket do an excellent job at insulating my body temperature. I smile; humans are never really that far from comfort, our ingenuity allows us to get by in almost any environment. Yet, extraordinary though we might be, it is not our adaptability I have come here to see.

Lake Mountain, only some two hours from Melbourne’s CBD, is a world in itself. Leaving the Ski Resort behind, we move into what would soon become the tourist-enticing snowfields of fame. For now though, there is no glaring white power. The snow would be here soon enough, but we had come to discover the alpine environment as it is for most of the year. Cold and wet, yet breathtakingly beautiful.

On either side of the path we walk we are surrounded by the towering white figures of snow gums (Eucalyptus pauciflora). They are dead, or at least the main body of each tree is dead. The 2009 bushfires that swept over this area and devastated the region surrounding Marysville and Kinglake were of such intensity that they destroyed thousands of these trees. However, the snow gums live on; the same individual plants re-sprout from lignotubers at the trees base and now, while the canopy is bare, the base of each plant is a glorious soft green. Life here is resilient. That is the first lesson of the alpine environment. 

A path of memoriam. 

A path of memoriam. 

We emerge from the forest trail into lesson two: life here is diverse. Before us is an open span of alpine grass and heathland. It is a mosaic of wonderfully pleasant tones of green and brown. Moisture hangs in the air, and as a cloud passes over us, it’s as if the whole landscape has been delicately painted with dew. The silence of this world dawns on me. I breathe quietly, unwilling to offend the serenity.

   

A snow gum ( Eucalyptus paucilflora ) sapling grows resiliently in the foreground. In the background the devastation of the 2009 fires can be seen in the bare white trees that sprawl across the landscape.   

A snow gum (Eucalyptus paucilflora) sapling grows resiliently in the foreground. In the background the devastation of the 2009 fires can be seen in the bare white trees that sprawl across the landscape.   

Plants are diverse and abundant here. They make the landscape what it is. 

Plants are diverse and abundant here. They make the landscape what it is. 

We opt for the path less travelled – which for us means neglecting the path altogether. The only trails we will be following are those made by the wombats that call this place home. While the common wombat has trouble moving through thick snow, it is nevertheless an abundant species at Lake Mountain, their trails appearing everywhere.

Less than 50 species of mammals can be found in the Australian alpine and most, like the wombat, are common at lower altitudes. However there are some species that are endemic to the alpine environment, such as the Mountain Pygmy Possum (Burramys parvus) found no lower than 1200 meters. The small diversity of mammals here is a signature of the environment’s harsh climate.

 

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Studying my late grandfather’s compass, I make a note of our intended direction, and with a quiet enthusiasm we pass into the forest of snow gums. They form an obvious border against the alpine grassland – the tree-line, as it is called. There are various ecological reasons for why such a boundary should exist, but one is that the abundant and fast-growing grasses out-compete and therefore disallow the emergence of snow gum seedlings. During the mighty fires of 2009, these grasses were wiped from the earth, allowing seedlings to establish, and so there is some speculation that the tree-line may move beyond its current position. Certainly, young saplings dot the grassland just beyond the tree boundary, and it will be interesting to see what happens in the coming decade.    

Inside, the forest is silent. The wind wrestles with the occasional leaf, and everywhere, the stark white trees reach for the sky: they are monuments to the devastation of this place’s past. We walk for some time, through grass, over rock, bending under and twisting between the low hanging snow gum branches. Unlike the temperate forests some kilometres below, there is little movement here. For one thing, the weather is hardly conducive to activity, but in general the alpine is a quiet, unassuming place.

 

Inside the forest.  

Inside the forest.  

Of course, there are animals. We see the occasional Flame Robin dart from branch to stump. In warmer weather, I’ve seen them here in great abundance feeding in plain sight, seemingly prone to showiness. The males are gorgeous little birds with dazzling red breasts and handsome grey heads and wings. We find the scat of wallabies, wombats, and even owls. Everywhere, the forest grasses are flattened with criss-crossing wombat trails. We follow them but are unable to find their architects. Nevertheless, it is an adventure, and each step brings with it the exciting purity of the Australian bush.

The striking breast of the Flame Robin ( Petrioca phoenicea )  stands out in this land of pale, deep greens. 

The striking breast of the Flame Robin (Petrioca phoeniceastands out in this land of pale, deep greens. 

After some time spent exploring the maze of snow gums, climbing large boulders that have emerged atop the mountain, and looking out for the unassuming life forms of the alpine environment, we find ourselves entering a grassy clearing smothered in a grey cloud. We appear to be at a high point of the mountain, as the tree line is nowhere above us - only below. In the centre of the grassland is a bog, and in the midst of the bog is a freshwater spring. The water is clear and the scene is one of serenity. There is silence but for the odd breath of wind, faint bird call, or croak of tiny frogs. Visibility is halted by the foggy cloud, heightening the sense of exclusivity we feel up here in this otherworldly place. We are alone, and the feeling is refreshing.

Peering into the shallow, pure water, I consider the journey that the contents of this bog will embark on. It will trickle its way down the mountain, turning into creeks and mighty rivers, eventually flowing into wetlands or out to sea. There is a feeling of genesis up here on the mountaintop: from this private place in the clouds, water will flow on to sustain life across vast expanses of land. It is a beautiful thought. But there is life sustained here also. The diverse bogs are riddled with tiny creatures: frog, spiders and various insects that survive without thermals or ski jackets. They live here all year round amongst the grasses and mosses of this breathtaking environment, and their sustained existence is essential to the health of this ecosystem, and in turn the health of the connected lands below.

 

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A place like this demands that you stop. It calls on you to reflect the profundity that you've stumbled upon. 

A place like this demands that you stop. It calls on you to reflect the profundity that you've stumbled upon. 

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Skinks can be found here also, some adapting to the cold climate by giving birth to live young rather than laying eggs that would otherwise be vulnerable to the climate. Juvenile Crimson Rosellas spend time here in large flocks before pairing up and moving further down the mountain as adults. Currawongs thrive throughout the warmer months, descending to the lowlands during winter. There is much to experience here if you have the will to look and the patience to listen.

Frequently, as the cloud rolls over and around us, I ponder the astonishing resilience of life here. The abundance of vegetation is a testament to the extraordinary adaptability of life, and the stark white snow gums and their re-sprouting shoots stand in defiant memorial of the fiery devastation of times passed. In spite of the silence, the entire landscape seems to sing to us. It is a melody of the enduring hardiness of life mixed with the sense of reality that one is confronted with in such wild places. It has character - that much is certain.

 

A Wolf Spider ( Lycosa ) stalks the alpine grasses.

A Wolf Spider (Lycosa) stalks the alpine grasses.

Common Eastern Froglets ( Cr inia signifera   )   produce some of the few sounds heard on the mountain top. 

Common Eastern Froglets (Crinia signiferaproduce some of the few sounds heard on the mountain top. 

Juvenile Crimson Rosellas ( Platycercus elegans) , identifiable by their green plumage, burst across the alpine landscape.

Juvenile Crimson Rosellas (Platycercus elegans), identifiable by their green plumage, burst across the alpine landscape.

After we spend a while in reflection, we make our way home. Following my compass, I lead us to a creek flowing with water of mountain origin. Through thick vegetation, up slope and downhill we find our way back – though I am aware Rachel and Emma were at times doubtful of my orienteering skills. Tired, hungry, cold and wet, we slump into my Commodore. A bite to eat and a nice hot shower would see these woes dealt with, but what would not dissipate was our respect for Australia’s alpine, nor our desire to preserve it and the unique life it supports.

We live in a very special land, surrounded by unique habitats. As you sit reading this, spare a thought for the irreplaceable organisms that are, at this moment, living out their lives atop our majestic mountains. Consider that, while astonishingly resilient, these plants and animals are also vulnerable, and the ecosystems in which they live fragile: that is the final lesson of our alpine. Can we afford to lose such places and the biodiversity that they nurture?

The steps we take now in minimising the effects of climate change and maintaining a healthy alpine environment will ultimately determine the survival of our alpine heritage. The first step for each of us should be to visit these extraordinary places, snow or not, and come to terms with the profound significance of their existence in our world.  

 

Our wild alpine is waiting for you.  

Our wild alpine is waiting for you.  

The Wilds of Marysville

The landscape around Marysville is a stark reminder of the power of nature. 

The landscape around Marysville is a stark reminder of the power of nature. 

Last month, Wild Melbourne ventured out to the town of Marysville to explore the surrounding wilderness. During our adventure, we went on a few of the nature walks that encompass the township, including a visit to Steavenson Falls, an underestimated hike up to Keppel Lookout, and a night-time walk to the Trestle Bridge. For me though, none of these stood out quite like the Beeches Rainforest Walk in the Yarra Ranges National Park.

The journey out to the Beeches was beautiful and awe-inspiring in its own right. We took the turn onto Lady Talbot Drive and, soon enough, the towering white skeletons of Mountain Ash trees - relics of the Black Saturday bushfires - surrounded us on all sides. These ghostly figures were all that we could see for kilometres, overwhelmingly illustrating the huge scope of the bushfires that occurred here in February 2009. Although this was sobering, there was also evidence of recovery and regrowth, with almost every naked tree surrounded by a sea of saplings. It looked impenetrable. Mountain Ash (Eucalyptus regnans) recover from bush fires by dropping huge quantities of seeds. The developing saplings then grow into dense communities, until one by one individuals are outcompeted for light, nutrients and water by their neighbours. It is these surviving saplings that go on to form the new forest canopy.

 

The pristine water of the Taggerty River gushes down mossy rocks. 

The pristine water of the Taggerty River gushes down mossy rocks. 

Lady Talbot Drive follows the Taggerty River, which bubbled and flowed alongside us as we drove up into the hills. About thirteen kilometres up the road, we reached the Beeches: a pocket of cool temperate rainforest, nestled in amongst towering stands of Mountain and Alpine Ash. Its canopy is dominated by Myrtle Beech trees (Nothofagus cunninghamii), but you will also find Southern Sassafras (Atherosperma moschatum) and Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) trees. Some of the trees in this rainforest are even thought to be 300 years old. This is quite plausible, as Myrtle Beech canopies can be up to 500 years old, with root system of up to 1000 years old. Before eucalupts evolved, Myrtle Beeches are thought to have been much more widespread. However, that was 25 million years ago - now they are restricted to cool, shaded forests and sheltered valleys throughout Victoria and Tasmania.

 

Words cannot express the tranquillity we found in this special place. 

Words cannot express the tranquillity we found in this special place. 

We didn’t see a great deal of animal life whilst wandering through the Beeches, but the plant life compensated for this. You cannot take a step on this walk without seeing a myriad of different mosses, or stumbling across some native ferns. Lichens and creepers cover the trees, whilst rocks and boulders guide the Taggerty River down through the rainforest.

In the town of Marysville, however, wildlife was abundant. Wood Ducks waddled down the main street, Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos foraged for grass seeds on the nature strip, and Currawongs loitered around the cafes. These three species were common throughout the town and seemed to exist in higher numbers than the town’s human residents.

 

Marysville is a wild town. 

Marysville is a wild town. 

Although we didn’t see many mammals (despite our keen searching), there is one marsupial that I would like to draw your attention to. The Leadbeater’s Possum (Gymnobelideus leadbeateri) was originally declared extinct in the 1950s, having not been sighted since 1909. However, after the discovery of a colony near Marysville in 1961, the Leadbeater’s Possum was declared Victoria’s faunal emblem and is now an ambassador for the endangered species of Victoria, and even Australia.

 

The Leadbeater's Possum. (Image courtesy of   http://www.zoo.org.au  )

The Leadbeater's Possum. (Image courtesy of  http://www.zoo.org.au)

Leadbeater’s Possums are most often seen at dusk when they emerge from their tree hollows to feed on insects and tree sap. From head to tail, this possum is just thirty centimetres in length, its body measuring just half of that, and is primarily distinguished by its club-shaped tail that is characteristically wider at the tip than at the base. These marsupials live in family groups consisting of a breeding pair and their offspring from previous years, often including as many as twelve individuals. Due to their highly endangered status, Leadbeater’s Possums are only found in Yellingbo Nature Conservation Reserve and the Victorian Central Highlands. These secretive creatures are found mostly in forests with a high occurrence of tree hollows, smooth-barked eucalypts and dense vegetation structure. As such tree hollows need over 150 years to develop, these possums can generally only live in mature, old growth forests (hence their localisation in only two particular areas).

It is these tree hollows that are the core issue surrounding the plight of our Leadbeater’s Possums. As they are essential habitat features for these marsupials in terms of nesting, tree hollow abundance directly affects the number of Leadbeater’s Possums in the wild. Due to logging, land clearing and bushfires, the number of tree hollows is unfortunately decreasing, with any destroyed tree hollows of course not being replaced for at least another 150 years. Bushfires also provide a threat to Leadbeater’s Possums, the Black Saturday fires wiping out almost all of their already diminished habitat. Subsequently, this loss of a suitable environment can lead to habitat fragmentation and a decrease in connectivity between populations, further worsening this fragile species’ chance of survival.

However, although population numbers are expected to decline further, there are a few things that we can do to help our state emblem. Zoos Victoria is currently running the ‘Wipe for Wildlife’ campaign, which encourages people to buy locally produced toilet paper made from 100% post-consumer paper, whilst containing no harsh chemicals. We can extend this notion to many other aspects of our lives, such as purchasing products that are sustainably packaged, as well as choosing wood and paper products that are ethically and sustainably sourced.  In doing this, the high rate of logging in Victoria can perhaps be decreased enough to give this species a fighting chance to achieve higher population numbers, as well as a less vulnerable position on our endangered species list.

With fewer than 1000 individuals remaining, Leadbeater’s Possums are in desperate need of our attention. The extinction of this iconic species would be a huge loss to our state and nation, both biologically and culturally, and would leave a stain on Victoria’s already unfavourable faunal history.

 

For one thing, the beautiful wilds of Marysville would not be the same without them.